College and Spadina is the one place downtown where all the city’s competing transportation systems converge into a messy knot.
Besides the heavy vehicle use and foot traffic originating from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the intersection supports the crossing of two streetcar lines and one of Toronto’s busiest bike lanes.
Over the past decade or so, rush-hour cycling traffic along that stretch of College has built to, well, European proportions. The city’s latest data (2006) has about 2,000 cyclists using the intersection in a typical eight-hour period, and that figure has almost certainly risen. “It feels like Copenhagen some mornings, which is pretty exciting,” says Toronto Cyclists Union executive director Yvonne Bambrick.
The jog where College crosses Spadina, probably an artifact of colonial lot lines, sets in motion a domino effect, Ms. Bambrick explains. Eastbound vehicles drift right as they cross Spadina to give the veering streetcar a wide birth.
That precautionary tactic, in turn, forces cyclists into the south-side pedestrian crossing. For cyclists, the intersection is further complicated by right-turning vehicles, a web of curved streetcar tracks, and a chronically blocked bike lane just past the southeast corner, where a convenience store and a couple of fast-food restaurants attract drivers who stop there to run quick errands. At that point, Ms. Bambrick says, eastbound cyclists are essentially forced back into traffic at a pinch-point. “With an intersection like that, it doesn’t take longer than 30 seconds to get into bad situation.”
Council this summer will consider a pilot project to establish so-called “bike boxes” and right-on-red restrictions at five intersections with heavy cycling traffic, including College and Spadina, says Daniel Egan, who manages cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Located at the entrance of the intersection, a bike box is a demarcated area that straddles the bike lane plus one or two vehicle lanes, and is basically designed to give cyclists a head start when the light turns green. Well-used in Europe, bike boxes can’t work without right-on-red restrictions.
Cycling advocates also want the city to paint chevron markings through the intersection to better delineate the route of the east-west bike paths through the jog. But Mr. Egan points out that in the College/Spadina intersection, there’s a large amount of concrete pavement (around the streetcar tracks) that is difficult to paint. The city, he says, is currently experimenting with more adhesive marking materials.
A faster downtown route through U of T is St. George to Beverley. For cyclist commuters, Harbord east to Huron or St. George may be a less nerve-wracking approach to the university/provincial government/hospital precinct east of Spadina, although the Harbord bike lanes are busy. Shortcuts through the traffic-maze neighbourhoods north and south of College will be all about sightseeing.